Omicron brings 5th wave; City offices close due to outbreak

Thomas Howard / The Meridian Star

Meridian Police Chief Deborah Naylor-Young speaks at a press conference announcing the closure of city offices Wednesday at City Hall.

City of Meridian offices are closed until Monday following an outbreak of COVID-19 among government employees as the highly contagious Omicron variant spreads throughout Mississippi.

On Wednesday, State Epidemiologist Dr. Paul Byers said the state has seen COVID-19 cases double over the past seven days with the arrival of Omicron. The Mississippi Department of Health, he said, is seeing high level of transmission throughout he state.

“We’re at high to substantial levels of community transmission really in all parts of the state,” he said. “We really are in the fifth wave.”

Omicron is about 50% more infectious than the Delta variant, which brought record cases, hospitalizations and deaths to Mississippi when it peaked in August. Byers said it would not be surprising to him if the Omicron wave reached record cases beyond Delta.

State Health Officer Dr. Thomas Dobbs said the best thing people can do right now is get vaccinated, get a booster shot and wear masks.

Only about 48% of Mississippians are fully vaccinated, and of those just 28% have received a booster.

Health professionals were able to treat some Delta cases with monoclonal antibody treatments to help reduce the severity of the infection. With Omicron, however, the state’s resources are in short supply.

Dobbs said the two most abundant monoclonal antibody treatments used for Delta do not work on Omicron. There are monoclonal antibody treatments and oral antivirals that have been shown to be effective against Omicron, but supply issues are delaying the drugs’ availability.

“We don’t have a lot of the monoclonal treatments available right now,” he said. “We’re trying to deploy them as quickly as we can. Most of the monoclonal treatments that we have are not effective against the Omicron variant.”

The next few weeks are especially important for Mississippians to do what they can to prevent the spread, Dobbs said. He urged residents to wear masks, quarantine if they have been exposed, utilize expanded testing appointments throughout the state and to make sure to get fully vaccinated with booster shots.

“Vaccination is still an important measure for COVID, especially against Omicron,” he said. “Boosters are critically important. We know to get full protection against Omicron, folks need to have a booster.”

The update from state health officials on Wednesday came hours after the City of Meridian announced it would be closing city offices due to an outbreak of COVID-19 among staff.

Public Safety Director Doug Stephens said offices would be shut down and employees sent home from 2 p.m. Wednesday until Jan. 3.

“This is an effort to reduce the exposure to all of our city employees and the general public we come into contact with daily,” he said. “We have had a surge of cases here in Lauderdale County and in the City of Meridian, and it has affected our employees and staff.”

Stephens said COVID-19 cases had been confirmed throughout multiple city departments prompting the shutdown. Emergency services and essential personnel, he said, would continue to work and respond to calls, but all other city offices would be closed during the shutdown.

Police Chief Deborah Naylor-Young said MPD officers would continue to respond to calls, but the front desk would not be manned and the building would be closed to the public.

“Our front desk will not be operating for the rest of the week after today,” she said. “We will have signs posted on the door.”

Young said dispatchers will continue to answer 911 calls, and non-emergency calls could be made by calling 601-484-6845. The on-duty shift commander can be reached at 601-917-5030.

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“We ask the callers that want officers to respond to please wear masks, and to advise our dispatchers or our officers if they have been around anyone that have been tested positive for COVID,” she said.

Mayor Jimmie Smith said a mask mandate for city buildings would be implemented once the shutdown is lifted Jan. 3. All city employees and residents entering city property will be required to wear a mask.

Essential personnel working through the shutdown will be required to mask up as well, he said.

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